Seeds of Control: Japan’s Empire of Forestry in Colonial Korea

(Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books Series, Univ. of Washington Press, forthcoming Spring 2020)

Seeds of Control examines Japanese efforts to understand, modernize, rehabilitate, exploit, and showcase Korea’s forests during the period of colonial rule (1910-1945). In addition to broadening the scope of environmental histories of East Asia, this study draws upon a wide range of hitherto unexplored Japanese- and Korean-language archival sources to illustrate how resource management, state-sponsored science, and ideas about conservation took shape in Japan’s colonial territories. In particular, I argue that the forestry enterprise in colonial Korea was as concerned with the seed as it was with the saw: it placed forest regeneration and conservation at the very heart of its efforts to modernize the Korean landscape and the ecological sensibilities of its inhabitants. Driven by utilitarian concerns about resource scarcity, a growing empire-wide demand for Korea’s forest products, and fears of cascading environmental degradation, foresters dispatched from the so-called “green archipelago” set out to reclaim a peninsula routinely described as “a land of bald mountains and red earth.” But forest reclamation in Korea was far from benevolent or benign: it siphoned off forestland to Japanese corporations, cut off local communities from woodlands that had long sustained them, and placed vast tracts of commercially viable forests under state control. Reforestation, in other words, was a process rife with conflict and fraught with contradiction. By chronicling the vicissitudes of this intensive, contested, and largely forgotten forestry project, Seeds of Control offers a path-breaking case study in the promise and perils of natural resource management as it took shape in Japan’s empire.